Since 2012, the Louisiana Legislature has at least twice considered completely eliminating all funding for the Inspector General, a state office tasked with rooting out government corruption.
A proposed law would lock funding into the state budget, so that elected leaders – ones that could find themselves at odds with the Inspector General's investigations – could never again attempt to defund the office.
"Now it's been demonstrated that this office needs this protection," state Inspector General Stephen Street said.
The House Appropriations committee advanced a bill by Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Kenner, to dedicate $2 million to the Inspector General's Office, which would fund the office to its 2015 budget level. House Bill 443 is a constitutional amendment, so it would also require a vote of the public.
Stokes stressed that the dedication is a mere ".0007 percent" of the total state budget, and would create a truly independent agency.
"Do you think it's proper for the government watch dog to have to ask for its funding from the government? The answer categorically is no," she said. "This office may be funded at the moment, but it is one big investigation away from having someone out of our 144 legislators try and defund it."
Louisiana Inspector General Stephen Street is bracing for the threat of another round of bud…
Street said a $2 million budget would allow him to be fully staffed. His budget was cut by 20 percent in 2016, and the office had to reduce its staffing by three criminal investigator positions.
"It's incredibly time consuming and it saps the energy out of the room for me to constantly be on the defensive down there," Street said, referring to having to fight for funding. "Especially because the types of cases we are working on are the types that could incur the wrath of people in the Legislature."
The measure was advanced out of committee and will get a full vote on the House floor. But a few members of the committee expressed some concern with the bill.
Rep. Tony Bacala, R-Prairieville, said he was concerned with the idea the Legislature would be creating yet another untouchable dedicated fund, that can no longer be considered when the lawmakers struggle to balance the budget in tough times.
An effort to involuntarily defer, or table, the bill failed 5-13 before it was later approved.
The Inspector General's office, unlike the Louisiana Legislative Auditor's Office, is a law enforcement agency tasked with investigating public corruption and fraud. Street has held the job since 2008, and was appointed for his second six-year term which ends in 2020.